Slavery: Let’s talk about it

When coming up with a tag line for my blog, I thought about a few things. My initial tag line was “helping you interpret a difficult past”. Now this sounds really good, and there is nothing wrong with it, but the more I thought about what I do as an interpreter of slave life, the more I realized that the hardest thing for people to do is actually talk about slavery. What is it about this peculiar institution that makes people uneasy? Why is it so hard to talk about it? Serious questions I ask myself as someone who not only has no problem talking about it, but as someone who sees the need for the conversation on slavery.

Cliche as it is, if we don’t know about our past, we are bound to repeat it. While I think it would be hard to reinstate chattel slavery, there are other areas of life that could be affected by not paying attention to what has happened in the past. Let’s take a good look at the education system. We are quick to complain that funding is cut from education before any other area, with low income schools being hit first. Then comes the claims that school systems are racist (enter Charlotte-Mecklenburg School systems vs. Charlotte NAACP) and just want to keep African American students down. Reminds me of how slaves weren’t allowed to read and write because knowledge was true power. But the system did not keep slaves from learning how to read and write and after slavery, schools like the Rosenwald schools, showed what power could be gained if the community rallied around its future with the hopes of moving away from the limitations of the past. Not ignoring what happened, but knowing that in order to move forward, we have to know where we came from.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about slavery as well that could be cleared up if only we would be more open to talking about it. As a person who dresses up like a slave for a living, I know that there is a lot of misinformation. For example, the living conditions of slaves were not universal. Yes, some slaves did live in log cabins with dirt floors, no windows and zero furniture. But there were some slaves who lived in wooden cabins that had raised floors, windows and furniture that provided a somewhat comfortable (as comfortable as one could get) living space. In fact, slave cabins were made from all types of materials, from brick, to wood, to clay, to stone. Does that mean we should dismiss the thought that slaves lived in log cabins? Of course not, because the majority of them did, but we should not be surprised when we find other types of cabins.

And as someone who studies slavery and the slave experience, I should never be surprised at how ignorant others are to the lives of slaves or other areas of US History because we as a society have not talked about it enough. It’s time to put away the shame of what happened and honestly talk about it so that we can understand and have a better picture of what happened. So, join me, and let’s talk about it.

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1 Response

  1. Kim says:

    Are there any accurate children’s reading materials that you can recommend? Not necessarily easy reader, like 5th grade – middle school age group.

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